Top Things to Do in San Miguel de Allende
Life in San Miguel moves at an easy pace, from poolside breakfast to a hike to an afternoon spa treatment to a leisurely dinner on a terrace. Here’s our list of the best ways to enjoy the lovely, long days in this charming town.
San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico
San Miguel’s iconic landmark, the Parroquia (officially the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel), is now world-famous. Look for its eclectic, neo-Gothic spires, crowning the city skyline, to locate the downtown area called the Centro. In 1880, self-taught mestizo architect and stone quarry master Zeferino Gutiérrez is said to have designed the church’s facade based on postcards of European cathedrals. He mapped out each day’s scope of work in the sand with a stick, since blueprints would have required reading and writing, two skills his craftsmen didn’t possess. You need not listen closely to hear La Luz, the largest of eight bells, tolling the hours clearly.
As befits a town with 475 years of history, San Miguel supports a number of city tour guides. One of the most popular is the Patronato Pro Niños Historic Walking Tour—a fund-raiser for children’s health care—which leaves from the city center, the Jardín, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10 a.m., for a two-hour stroll through history. You’ll surely stop at the Chorro (a public patio lined by old, open-air laundry sinks), a popular photo spot. And for real down-to-earth insight (plus a couple of laughs) about San Miguel people, culture, and rituals, book a tour with local storyteller Joseph Toone.
Calle del Dr Ignacio Hernandez Macias 52, Centro, Zona Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, Gto., Mexico
Those who love a terrace view—and honestly, who doesn’t?—will have plenty to drink in on San Miguel rooftops. The most dramatic view is that of El Palomar Hotel, perched at the Centro’s eastern edge, high above it all. The Rosewood boasts Luna Bar, ground zero for popping the question. Hotel Nena offers an intimate rooftop spa along with liquid refreshments, while newcomers like 1810 Hotel Boutique and Casa No Name—no name doesn’t apply to the aptly dubbed Sky Bar—share breathtaking vistas for the price of a drink.
San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico
Thermal springs dot the countryside just north of San Miguel, some as close as a five-minute taxi ride away. Newest—and closest among them—is the Spa at Los Senderos (pictured above), with an adjacent sandy lakeshore for a day-at-the-beach facsimile. In fact, this is a wider residential and ecological project that includes vineyards and organic orchards. Older spas like La Gruta, Escondido Place, and Taboada merit daylong excursions, with lunch being served while you recline in your chaises longues. And the Mayan Baths, with an underground rock-walled grotto complete with candles and piped-in music, can make for a romantic evening, even including a buffet dinner. (That said, double-check the somewhat irregular schedule.)
Aldama 53, Centro, Zona Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, Gto., Mexico
It’s hard to imagine a town more suited to spas than San Miguel. From milk and honey body experiences (sounds biblical, right?) to chocolate wraps, the local spa treatments indulge the body and soothe the soul. Most hotels and hot springs maintain spas or offer simple treatments after your soak, but maybe none is as complete as the spa at the Hotel Matilda (pictured here), where, in addition to all-but-edible exfoliation treatments—including coconut-, vanilla-, salvia- or polenta-based—there is a botica (herbal pharmacy) concierge to assist customers with designing their own beauty and skin-care products, selecting and blending the ingredients and scents to the perfect formula.
It’s a mouthful to pronounce, but it’ll prove to be among the most authentic San Miguel experiences you’ll ever enjoy. The city hosts over 700 weddings annually, and the prelude to almost every ceremony is a callejoneada, a parade in which the wedding party wanders through cobblestoned streets, tequila in hand, smiles alit, and voices singing. Giant mojigangas—papier-mâché puppets towering 10 feet in the air and dancing wildly—will visually announce the callejoneada, then you’ll start to hear the mariachi tunes. An adorable burro, adorned with colorful paper flowers, pulls a tequila cart from which all attendees indulge. The spirit is contagious, even watched from the curb.
Conde de La Canal 34, Centro, Zona Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, Gto., Mexico
In the daylight, tacones (high heels) can be dangerous on cobblestoned streets, but during a night on the town, they’re great for dancing. San Miguel offers something for everyone’s taste. Salsa lessons can be enjoyed at places like Hacienda Guadalupe. Live music, at clubs like VC & Friends and on rooftops like Quince or Bond’s 007 Gin Bar, brings out everyone’s best Travolta moves. The younger set opts for the dance floors at El Grito and Mint, where the velvet rope amps up the Manhattan factor. That said, what happens on the dance floor at Cent’anni (pictured here)—even after a comforting Italian dinner—tends to be much more impromptu, lively, and festive.
3 Pila Seca
San Miguel is chock-full of unique shops offering everything including art, antiques, collectibles, and trinkets. There’s something for everyone, from furniture to jewelry, at Mixta, a shop housed in a beautiful 18th-century structure on Calle Pila Seca. The idea—as the name suggests—is to mix local design with international ideas. As you find yourself seduced by the shop’s mishmash of old photography, shawls woven by an indigenous women’s cooperative, designer dresses, reproduction Eames chairs, silkscreen-print handbags, and colorful Chiapaneco table linens, the common denominator shines through, bright and clear: a brilliant eye for beauty.
Calle del Dr Ignacio Hernandez Macias 83, Centro, Zona Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, Gto., Mexico
Shoppers with a discerning eye can find surprisingly stylish clothes in San Miguel…the ladies, that is; high-style men’s offerings are rarer. For something uniquely chic, try Angela’s exotic handpainted dresses at Sindashi, where different creators present everything from blossoms to Greek keys or motifs inspired by Mexico’s indigenous traditions in their quest for true “conversation pieces.” You’ll find the latest in Mexican couture as well, at Bendita, and updated serapes at Recreo. Patrice’s Abrazos carries items in colorful Mexican prints, everything from aprons to shirts. Get that bohemian look at Marcia’s Agua de Coco, or head to Girasol Boutique for linen clothing.
Visitors often want to bring a souvenir from San Miguel back to the kids or friends at home...nothing too elaborate, but authentic nonetheless. Head to the three-block Mercado de Artesanías for a leisurely stroll amid the stalls. Start at the west end and work your way east to find silver, crafts, jewelry, pottery…if it fits in a suitcase, you can buy it here. To the east of the artisans’ market, visit the Mercado Ignacio Ramírez, where you’ll find head-high pyramids of fruits and vegetables, perfect for great photos; nightstand-worthy flowers; and food stalls offering everything from custom-made licuados—think smoothies, Mexican style—to peeled cactus leaves freshly prepared for a nopal salad. Good hunting!
Carretera Dolores Hidalgo - San Luis de la Paz Km.11.5 Rancho el Rosillo 37800, Dolores Hidalgo, GTO, México, Guanajuato, Mexico
Wine aficionados set their sights on the Guanajuato Wine Route, now perhaps second only in Mexico to the trails in Baja California’s long-established Valle de Guadalupe. While wineries have existed in this region for several decades, San Miguel only recently received official designation as a wine route, thanks to wineries like Vega Manchón (owner Ricardo hails from Mexico City); Bodega Dos Búhos, where art by Peter Leventhal mesmerizes visitors almost as much as the wine; or Vinícola Toyán. Newcomer labels like Santísima Trinidad have joined the old-timers in hosting vendimia events every weekend in August, with Santísima adding extra attractions like polo games and olive-oil demonstrations. No going Sideways for oenophiles here; they will head home with a new wine destination secret—and a bottle or two.
Calz de La Aurora S/N, Aurora, 37710 San Miguel de Allende, Gto., Mexico
San Miguel is known as a community of artists, but to fully appreciate that understatement, every traveler should get closer to the city’s arts community. This village is a place where many have reinvented themselves as the next Picasso or Basquiat. First stop? The art galleries at Fábrica la Aurora, where visitors browse, shopping to add to their collections, with choices from the genres of painting, drawing, and sculpture. Longtime local favorites include Peter Leventhal—whose Rubenesque nudes adorn many a wall across the globe—and his wife, multimedia artist Terra Mizwa; abstract artist Merry Calderoni; and Annie Evans, whose sculptures of devilish women are mesmerizing. Art galleries also abound in the Centro and nearby San Antonio district. Events calendars detail monthly art walks.
Central Mexico’s Bajío region—San Miguel sits at its heart—is high mountain desert, with a landscape quite worthy of exploration. The 445-acre nonprofit nature preserve called El Charco del Ingenio—named a Peace Zone by the Dalai Lama in 2004—is a prime destination for nature lovers, thanks to miles of trails, an extensive botanical garden, and a fascinating wetlands preserve. Spend all day if time allows—an on-site café provides nourishment to keep you going.
San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico
Viñedos San Lucas is a new multi-use development fifteen minutes outside downtown. Its gracious, yet rustic hacienda vibe is attracting new neighbors plus locals and visitors to a complex that includes a quaint hotel and spa, two Mediterranean restaurants, one of the region’s finest wine cellars and even a polo ground. Vineyard excursions (don’t miss the lavender and olive groves) offer a glimpse of a Mexico few know; the mood is divinely bucolic. Time flies painlessly over wine and conversation, both outdoors and in.
Jesús 4, Centro, Zona Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, Gto., Mexico
One great way to let your hair down in San Miguel is to rent an ATV, known here as a cuatrimoto. Several operators offer city and countryside tours, but we recommend a trip with Bicentenario Todo Terreno so you can combine your adventure with some local history. These excursions gambol down part of the old Camino Real—the ‘royal road’ that Spaniards used to haul silver back to the Old World—as well as historical sites like the Cañada de la Virgen pyramid.
Calle Niños Héroes, Rancho, Boca de la Cañada, Gto., Mexico
Visitors to San Miguel are often inspired by the 475-year-old city to try an older, more romantic mode of travel. If you feel the urge to experience the region on a horse, test your saddle skills with the company Leisurely Country Horseback Riding which can teach you how to manage your mounts. Owner Beth Kaestner plans excursions that can be customized to include ranch tours and picnics.